As the prosecution rests

by Walter Olson on July 6, 2013

One view of the Florida trial: “After the killing of Trayvon Martin, I was disturbed that George Zimmerman was not arrested, and was glad that charges were brought and would be resolved in court. I was wrong; I did not understand how weak the evidence was.” [Jack Chin [UC Davis Law], PrawfsBlawg] More from Jacob Sullum here and here. And from Jack Shafer, a defense of cable TV’s coverage of sensational trials.

{ 10 comments }

1 William Nuesslein 07.07.13 at 5:54 am

One expects few motions to dismiss to succeed. Charges against a person are filtered through the police and the prosecuting office. District attorneys don’t want to waste resources on an invalid case. In this Zimmerman case, the original police/DA filter rejected the case, and an outrageous charge resulted from political pressure. Mr. O’Mara’s argument was compelling to me, and I believed the judge erred horribly.

2 Robert 07.07.13 at 4:51 pm

It’s outrageous that they can use his coursework in a college-level course he took as evidence for Zimmerman’s own state of mind, but not use Mr. Martin’s own statements about drug use or being a gangster to determine his state of mind.

3 William Nuesslein 07.08.13 at 6:51 am

Temporal considerations are ignored by the “he’s guilty” crowd. Here are two for examples.

1) The lady who had the interpreter said that Zimmerman was on top. She was credible. Mr. Good said that Martin was on the top. He was credible too. The two stories reconcile when one takes account that the lady saw the event after the gun shot and her going to a place from which she could observe. Mr. good responded to voices and observed Martin on Zimmerman before the shot.

2) “Stand you ground” was a brouhaha after the event. Someone should generate a search of Florida media before and after the shooting of Martin. I would bet almost no mentions of “stand your ground” before the shot and at the time Zimmerman was in class. Thus Zimmerman’s claim that he was unaware of “stand your ground” is very plausible.

4 wfjag 07.08.13 at 12:01 pm

“It’s outrageous that they can use his coursework in a college-level course he took as evidence for Zimmerman’s own state of mind,”

More so since Florida’s Stand Your Ground law is irrelevant to the issues before the jury. For the SYG law to apply, the defendant must have been in a position to retreat. The Fla SYG law was to overrule prior holdings that a potential victim had a duty to retreat. Also, it provides for a pre-trial hearing on whether the elements of the defense are met, so that the defendant does not have to risk putting the issue to the jury (the idea being that this is to avoid a decision made based on prejudice or passion. The Judge is to act as a gatekeeper).

Zimmerman, however, was on the ground having his head pounded. He could not retreat, and did not assert a SYG defense. Rather, it is a straight forward self-defense claim, since the evidence the prosecution presented raises it. The issue is whether, beyond a reasonable doubt, the prosecution proved that the elements of self defense have been disproven.

The prosecution’s evidence that Zimmerman had studied the SYG law is misleading for the jury. And, since the testimony from the police was that Zimmerman did not appear to have concocted his story, the foundation was not laid for any argument that Zimmerman’s knowledge of criminal law allowed him to fabracate a defense.

5 Ann Randolph 07.12.13 at 11:51 am

This argument by the defense is crazy! People need to get over their personal feelings about Black males. All of you who pretend GZ is innocent should get your heads examined. It is hard to see your own prejudices and this case is a over he did not act in self-defense.

Common sense should play a role in this, Black men are not superman. This was a kid not some bully as some of you believe. Get past getting your ass kicked by some Black kid years ago.

6 Ron Miller 07.12.13 at 1:16 pm

I think whether the law applies is not relevant, wfjag. It is whether it informs his state of mind.

Robert, I’m not sure drug use and gangster talk sheds much light on his state of mind in the moment.

Ann, the defense is not crazy either. No one wants to hear that rational people can see this case two different ways. The other side is just so dumb an uneducated.

As for my opinion, I have the same opinion: Zimmerman is morally culpable but not legally culpable. There are just too many things that only Zimmerman and God know and, given that uncertainty, we have to give him the benefit of the doubt.

7 Hugo S. Cunningham 07.12.13 at 1:46 pm

I see enough likelihood that Martin started the fight to raise “reasonable doubt” about second degree murder.

I might have signed off on a manslaughter conviction (did Zimmerman really have to get out of his car?), figuring on a penalty of five or ten years. I notice Florida has an unusually ferocious manslaughter penalty, however — 30 years– more than New York gives out for premeditated murder.

Will the Zimmerman jurors know the sentences involved before they decided guilty or not guilty?

8 Hugo S. Cunningham 07.12.13 at 2:40 pm

>Will the Zimmerman jurors know the sentences involved before they decided guilty or not guilty?

(I suspect the answer is no.)

In an ideal system, after a guilty verdict, if the defense believes the sentence is higher than the jury realized and intended, they should be allowed to inform the jury of this and ask them if they wish to lower the sentence. But before the jury decides this new question, the prosecution should be allowed to inform them of the defendant’s prior criminal record.

9 Ron Miller 07.12.13 at 3:46 pm

I know nothing about criminal law but I suspect you are right and the jury does not know.

10 William Nuesslein 07.16.13 at 9:03 am

@Ron Miller

After Martin became aware of the gun, (probably by sensing it against his leg as Zimmerman was wiggling around) Martin told Zimmerman “You’re go ing to die, M*** F****”.

How, in God’s holy name, can Zimmerman be morally culpable?

Mr. Zimmerman got the gun to protect himself from a dog. Thank goodness, he could use it to stop the long beating (listen to his cries for help on the 911 recording.) inflicted on him by a lad with uncontrolled aggression.

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